‘Every house is a fortress’: Wagner leader counts the cost as Russia stalls in Bakhmut | Ukraine

The head of the Wagner Russian mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said his fighters have sometimes spent weeks trying to capture a single house in the key disputed Donbas town of Bakhmut, in the latest evidence of how the Kremlin’s efforts there have been they have stagnated

In a grim video posted over the new year, Prigozhin, a key Putin ally, was filmed visiting a cellar near the eastern front filled with the bodies of his fighters, many of them convicted, who had died during the bitter fighting for the city. . , a key Russian target since the summer.

In the makeshift morgue, Prigozhin is seen displaying bodies on stretchers and in body bags. A pile of bagged bodies can be seen stacked at shoulder height in the corner of one of the rooms.

“Their contract is up, they are going home next week,” Prigozhin can be heard saying, adding: “These are getting ready to be shipped. We all work through New Year’s Eve.

“Here lie Wagner fighters who died at the front. Now they are putting them in zinc coffins and they will come home.”

As more bodies are seen being removed from a truck, Prigozhin can be heard offering New Year’s greetings.

Ukraine war map

Wagner has played a key role in the Russian offensive against Bakhmut, and Ukrainian soldiers interviewed by The Guardian said Wagner’s fighters were often used as shock troops in frontal assaults on their positions, while newly mobilized Russians are deployed. in more defensive roles.

While Ukrainian sources and Russian military blogs have long suggested that Wagner has suffered heavy losses in the months-long assault, the images, and Prigozhin’s commentary, have underscored the sheer scale of the attrition.

In a second clip of footage from his visit to the Eastern Front, Prigozhin confirmed the difficulties his forces were facing. “Everyone wants to know when we will capture [Bakhmut]”, he explains, using the Russian name for the city, Artemovsk.

A screenshot of Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing inmates in a Russian prison offering them freedom in exchange for fighting with Wagner group mercenaries in Ukraine.
A screenshot of Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing inmates in a Russian prison offering them freedom in exchange for fighting with Wagner group mercenaries in Ukraine. Photography: Twitter

“In Artemovsk, every house has turned into a fortress. Our boys sometimes fight for more than a day over a house. Sometimes they fight for weeks over a house. And behind this house, there is still a new line of defense, and not one. And how many such lines of defense are there in Artemovsk? Five hundred probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

An anonymous Wagner soldier that Prigozhin meets complains about the difficulties they face there. “We don’t have enough equipment, we don’t have enough BMP3 [armoured cars] and shells,” he says.

In separate footage of Bakhmut filmed on January 2, a Ukrainian soldier named Kiyanyn describes the continuing fighting. Amid the sound of shelling, he describes how fighters in his sector of the city have repelled several large-scale attacks on the city he calls “the fortress.”

“They came like insects. We had to resupply ammunition several times… The defense line is up and holding.”

The latest clashes in the east came as Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said Russia was preparing to intensify its attacks on the country using Iranian-made explosive drones.

“We have information that Russia is planning a prolonged attack by Shaheds [exploding drones]Zelenskiy said in his late-night video address Monday night.

He said the goal was to break Ukraine’s resistance by “exhausting our people, [our] air defense, our energy”, more than 10 months after Russia invaded its neighbor.

Zelenskiy was speaking after the Russian president, Vladimir Putinappeared to be exploring ways to regain momentum in its failed war effort, which in recent months has been thwarted by a U.S.-backed Ukrainian counteroffensive. western supplied weapons.

In the latest embarrassment for the Kremlin, Ukrainian forces fired rockets at a facility in the eastern Donetsk region where Russian soldiers were stationed. killing 63 of them, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Other unconfirmed reports put the death toll much higher.

It was one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the war began more than 10 months ago.

In the attack, Ukrainian forces fired six rockets from a Himars launch system and two of them were shot down, according to a Russian Defense Ministry statement.

However, the strategic communications directorate of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Sunday that some 400 mobilized Russian soldiers were killed in the building of a vocational training school in Makiivka, and about 300 more were injured. That claim could not be independently verified.

The Russian statement said the strike occurred “in the Makiivka area” and did not mention the vocational school.

Many of the recruits who were killed and wounded in the attack came from the Samara region in the country’s southwest, according to Governor Dmitry Azarov, who told families to call local military offices for more information.

An Orthodox memorial service was held in the center of Samara on Tuesday morning and flowers were laid at a Soviet-era war memorial in the city.

On various social media groups used by locals in Samara, relatives of the recruits continued to search for information about their whereabouts.

“No one answers the phone at the enlistment office. How do I know if my son is still alive? one woman wrote.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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